Based on inputs by Shahid Kazi
The Guardian tracked down and helped children of an Islamic State fighter who were abandoned in Syria, in reuniting them with their mother.
Mahmud and Ayyub Ferreira, now aged 11 and seven, were abducted by their father and taken to Syria in 2014, where they spent several years living in the so-called caliphate before ending up in Kurdish custody. They were released into the care of their mother, Felicia Perkins-Ferreira, who traveled 6,000 miles from the Caribbean to be reunited with her sons in north-east Syria.
After crossing the Iraqi border with the human rights lawyer Clive Stafford Smith, the family was flown to Switzerland with the help of Roger Waters from the rock band Pink Floyd.
The two boys and their mother cried when they were reunited in the Syrian Kurdish administrative capital, Qamishli, hugging each other close. Perkins-Ferreira cleaned their faces with baby wipes and changed them into the clean clothes she had brought with her.
On the long drive back across the border to Iraq, Ayyub and Mahmud slept on their mother’s lap. She slept, too, she said.
“That was the first time I’ve slept properly in four years,” said Perkins-Ferreira, who said she had been left traumatized by being separated from her sons. “I often wouldn’t eat for days, thinking: ‘If they’re not eating, why should I?’”
The family has now traveled to London where the two boys will receive counselling to help them recover from their ordeal.
“I’m really, really grateful and I wish I could meet [all the people who helped] all in one and embrace them,” said Perkins-Ferreira.
Kidnapped the day after Ayyub’s third birthday, the boys spent several years in Isis territory before the US-led coalition closed in and their father sent them out of Raqqa towards Turkey with their Belgian stepmother.
The boys’ father is believed to have died in the fighting and their step-mother is being held in a different Kurdish camp.
The brothers were so traumatized by their experiences they could not remember their mother’s name, but they clung on to pictures of her, which the Guardian used to find Perkins-Ferreira in Petit Valley, a quiet suburb just outside Trinidad’s capital, Port of Spain. She had received only intermittent news of her sons over the past four years.
Stafford Smith, of the international legal nonprofit Reprieve, enlisted the financial help and private jet of Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters to get the Ferreria boys out of Syria, after asking the Trinidad and Tobago authorities to issue emergency travel documents for the children.
“We’re going to make sure that they get on with a really productive, decent life,” said Stafford Smith. Ayuub dreams of being a professional footballer and Mahmud wants to become a cricketer.
About 1,200 more children like Mahmud and Ayyub are believed to be stuck in a legal limbo in Syria after the defeat of Isis.